It feels like the world has ended when the stake enters the body next to him.
George lets out this animalistic scream, fiercer than anything he's done before in his wolf form, when his best friend suddenly lists to the side. There's the sound of footsteps as someone brushes past him, but all he can think is that they were supposed to be safe this time.
It's the middle of the day, in a crowed street, and George really doesn't have any idea how this could have happened. It gets all too real though when Mitchell coughs out a mouthful of blood, his hands scrabbling at George's shirt, and when passers-by rush over.
The whole thing is just far too real.
Someone calls an ambulance, and there's another person crouching beside them to put pressure on the wound, but all George can see are his best friend's helpless eyes, and the blood covering his shirt. It's too much like that first time, when Herrick had shattered everything in seconds, and he doesn't know what to do.
Several seconds pass them by, moments when George tries to remember how to breathe, as he watches Mitchell struggle to. Part of him wonders if Mitchell even needs to breathe, but he's gasping and blood is coating his teeth. They've sank down onto the ground, Mitchell's legs splayed all over the path, while his are tucked neatly underneath him. George stares into his friend's agony filled eyes, seeing the red blood pump steadily out of him, and whines.
Then paramedics swarm them quickly, and all George knows is that there's no way that he's letting Mitchell out of his sight.
They're quick and professional, while people on the street watch with hands covering their horrified expressions. IVs slip in, and backboards slide under, and suddenly Mitchell isn't in his arms anymore—and it's wrong.
Mitchell moans and thrashes in the ambulance, held down by straps across his torso and the paramedic almost sitting on his chest to try and stop the bleeding. George keeps hold of one of his hands, feeling the coldness of it, and wonders for a split second if Mitchell ever misses being warm.
He's shaking, that much he can tell, but the tremors that wrack his body only intensify as they reach the hospital. Because he knows that they're going to take Mitchell away, he knows that they won't be able to save him, not properly. George knows that this could be the last few moments that he has with Mitchell, because the shell of a man that had been left behind in the hospital bed last time had almost killed him.
There's no Josie to take the fall for them this time.
They reach the hospital far too quickly, and George has to run to keep up with the gurney. He locks eyes with Mitchell, his friend gasping and flailing his arms around weakly, while he prattles off the stream of meaningless information that they'd made up the last time, to explain the lack of a heartbeat. (Just a faint one, which runs in the family, yes, yes, that's it, that's why you can't get a reading.) It's utter bullshit, but it's all that that they've got.
Mitchell is quickly wheeled away from him, down a corridor that he can't follow, and George is left feeling so empty and broken. There's blood splattered all over him, and he stares at it numbly, wondering if Mitchell will ever be able to replenish the liquid without having to drink. He knows that his friend won't be able to though, and something breaks inside him when he thinks about what that means.
He manages to call Nina though, and she promises to be over as quick as she can. He hears Annie scream in the background, and his heart wrenches at the sound.
When they arrive, George tries to speak, he really does, but nothing comes out. Annie cries and lashes out at him, but nothing changes the fact that Mitchell is probably dying, again, and there's nothing that they can do. Nina leaves for a while to try and get information, seeing as she works in the hospital they've been brought to, and all the while George just stares at the lino floor and realises that he can't live life without his best friend.
The clock ticks by slowly, and Annie finally curls up next to him, tears streaming down her face.
When a doctor comes hesitantly down the hall towards them, a regretful look on his face, they just know. The man hesitantly begins to speak to George, and he tries to listen to the words, but it's hard when Annie is right beside him, bawling and screaming.
They know that Mitchell isn't dead. His body never turned to ash, so George assumes that means that the stake hadn't entered his heart—but that's not much of a comfort. Mitchell might not be dead, but that's only because he's unable to die.
"Can we see him?"
Mitchell is in intensive care, that much is obvious by the sheer lack of hope that George feels as he follows the doctor through a maze of corridors. He ignores the usual speech that they give family members, even though technically no one's asked him how he's related, and marches straight in, Annie clinging to his side.
The sounds of monitors and machines assault him the minute he walks into the room, and for a split second, George cringes back. He feels shameful and shocked when he realises what he's done, but Annie is already halfway to the bed, and Mitchell lets out a moan.
Tears prickle at the back of his eyes, but he sniffs them away, as he moves towards Mitchell, but the same cannot be said for Annie. Mitchell cracks an eye open when he hears a disturbance beside his bed, but it slides closed again once he sees who it is. He's shirtless, and bandaged up tightly, wires and tubes anchoring him to the bed.
George notices that he's hooked up to heart monitors, despite his 'condition.'
For the first few minutes, Annie just cries, George hovers, and Mitchell concentrates on just breathing.
He doesn't think that he's ever seen his friend looking worse, his skin so pale it looks translucent. Mitchell's lips are cracked and bleeding, and his hands display numerous IV lines, in an attempt to provide more transfusion sites.
At least someone cleaned all the blood off him though.
There's still dried blood covering George's shirt, and now, looking down at Mitchell who's almost dying from blood loss, he's never wanted to change clothes so badly. Nina seems to sense his discomfort, as she enters minutes later, and presses a clean shirt into his hand.
Within two seconds, George has ripped off his blood crusted shirt, struggling not to shudder as he feels the flakes of blood scrape from his skin, and flings it into the corner of the room. He sinks into the chair beside the bed then, and rests his head against the mattress.
"What are we going to do?" A sob wells up in his chest, and Nina puts her hand gently on his shoulder, "Mitchell, what are we going to do?"
The next few hours pass agonisingly slow.
Mitchell keeps breathing, but that's only because he has no other choice. George watches his friend sadly, and wants to scream with the unfairness of the situation. He can almost feel Mitchell slipping away, but the vampire side of him clings to life, not allowing him to slip into peaceful death.
He doesn't want his friend to die, George thinks as he lays a hand gently over Mitchell's, but this looks like some kind of torturous purgatory.
It's evident in the nurses' faces that they hadn't expected Mitchell to last this long. They come in every few minutes, to check equipment and change IV bags, and shake their heads in disbelief when they look properly at his stats.
The blood transfusions aren't working, just as George knew they wouldn't, because Mitchell needs to drink blood to get better, not have it infused into his veins. He keeps his mouth shut though, feeling the warm presence of Nina beside him, and watches as Annie curls up next to Mitchell on the bed.
Mitchell drifts in and out of consciousness, but he doesn't say much. It's mostly just moans and murmurs, but George still gets excited every time he comes round, and leans in close to hear what he's saying. Annie spends the minutes that Mitchell is with them smoothing down his hair, and whispering that he's fine, and that he'll be better soon. She promised it so many times, that George lets himself believe it for a few seconds, and it feels so good.
George doesn't even have any idea who attacked Mitchell, and that fact troubles him.
He assumes that in the past hundred years, Mitchell had managed to make some enemies, but they had never really talked properly about his past in depth. George doesn't even know if the attacker was human or a vampire. No police bother them though, due to the fact that it looks like Mitchell is about to die any second now, and hospital staff have developed the uncanny knack of warding off and stalling any police over the years.
None of them talk about what they're going to do in the long term; even though they all know that Mitchell won't get better by himself.
Doctors stick their heads in every once in a while, raised eyebrows a testament to the fact that he shouldn't be alive, but George really doesn't have the strength to deal with them. Words like deteriorating, and no improvement and unresponsive to treatment are thrown around, but it's not like they're listening anymore.
Light filters through the window when morning comes, rays of sunshine that cause Mitchell to whine in pain when he opens his tender eyes—light that is immediately blocked out by George, so fast and panicked that he knocks over a cabinet, and goes down with it.
Mitchell huffs out a laugh, and then is gone once again.
He feels like he's sliding down a mountain, like he's slipping further and further into the cold clench of an icy abyss.
Sometimes he can hear George's voice, Annie's too, but mostly he can hear the thrumming of pulses, and feel the hunger. The bed underneath him feels like it's tipping, but Mitchell is almost positive that it's the nausea causing it.
His chest aches like nothing before, all his strength expelled within the blink of an eye. Mitchell considers just letting go and stopping breathing, to conserve energy if nothing else, but it's such a deeply ingrained habit by now—and the thought of more nurses swarming around him is exhausting.
Instead, he settles for panting weakly, wondering how the hell they're going to pull this one off.
Maybe he could doze off until the morning, and then get George to smuggle him out. But he's so close to death at this point, can taste it on his lips just as surely as he had felt the wood fibres pierce his flesh, that he knows it's impossible.
Only way he's walking out of here is with a lifeless blood bank left behind.
The word must have slipped out of his mouth, because suddenly someone is gripping his hand tighter, words floating around his head that he can't decipher. Mitchell thinks that he replies, but he's almost certain that it had been in old Gaelic, so he doesn't know how much good it's doing.
He expends just a bit more strength to squint up at Annie, stroking his hair back and looking like she was living her worst nightmare. Worse than being dead. That makes him show his teeth in some grotesque form of a grin, before he feels death's grip tug him down just a bit further.
George makes this high pitched wining noise that breaks through the watery deafness, and Mitchell twitches his fingers in a pathetic form of response.
War often comes back to him at conflicting times.
He remembers it, as if anyone could really forget, and sometimes it feels like it's still ripping him apart from the inside out. Mitchell got a way out from the blood and violence, got flung into a whole new level of it all—but he can always hear those screams, the feeling of watching a man fall, and just knowing—knowing that he would never get back up, and that it could be him next.
George and Annie could never understand, never. He sees their expressions when he goes to the memorial statues, even if they don't see them themselves. People on the street look at him funny, when he salutes perfectly at the names engraved in stone and marble, when he kneels down on the pavement and reads them all.
His name is out there somewhere, in some semi-complete list of all the fallen soldiers, John Mitchell, and it makes him sick. He didn't die alongside all those brave men, his friends and comrades, even if he did bleed out on a pile of corpses.
Mitchell didn't die because he couldn't. Something had held him back then, and it was doing the same again now.
He felt another laboured breath pass, the rise of his chest a somewhat insulting but comical version of what he had once been. His head lolls slightly on his shoulder, above the small mountain of pillows, and a cool hand is placed on his forehead.
All he wants is to make it stop.
George's head is deep in his hands, and it doesn't look like it's going to come out. He flinches when he hears the 'Josie' again, and refuses to look at Mitchell's cracked and bleeding lips whisper it. In fact, he doesn't think that he can even glance back at the bed, or at anything else for that matter.
Mitchell is beyond pale, looking every bit the undead creature that he is, and George hates it. He despises the reminder that just keeps coming back to kick them down, and not for the first time he thinks of the monster Herrick had been, and the stark differences between the two.
But Mitchell is the same.
They've all seen each other on their bad days, George having the most of them, but he's has never been more terrified of anything then when he sees Mitchell lose control. Back at the Pink House, when the feral side had taken hold, and his best friend had been snarling across the table at him, leering forward with that look in his eyes—It had been one of the worst moments of his life.
It's easy to forget sometimes, too easy.
They don't think of it when they're huddled on the couch, all three of them pressed up together, when it doesn't matter that two of them don't have a heartbeat.
With Annie, it's different, it is. Mitchell has blood on his hands, a thick coating of red that they can mostly look away from. But it always just keeps coming back to haunt them, through hunger bouts and the blank stares that sometimes sucked Mitchell in, when he would just gaze into space looking painfully conflicted and furious.
He always comes back to them though. After the pain and anguish, always comes Mitchell—with that wide grin and infectious humour.
George wonders if it'll be the same this time.
It has to be though. Because if he can just avoid looking at Mitchell, already the illusion that things can get better becomes stronger, and it gets easier to block out the weak panting. His friend's hand is limp in his firm grip, but George keeps holding tightly, hoping that he can lend some of his strength.
Because maybe if he can just—
His head snaps up, and George leans in close, until he can almost feel Mitchell's breath wheezing against his face, "What is it, Mitchell? M-Mitchell, tell me what you need?" His best friend sighs out what could have been a chuckle in another time, and his head lolls slightly so that it's tilted towards George.
"No blood this time…." Mitchell's voice is faint, lighter than a feather, but George knows what he's saying. He can't reply, can only grip Mitchell's hand tighter, and Annie lets out a moan from beside them. But their vampire is speaking again, or rather, trying to—cracked lips moving slowly but determined, "Take… me home."
"Home?" George hears his voice rise up a few octaves at the end of the word, and it feels like something is breaking inside his chest.
Mitchell tries to smile wearily, lips just managing to turn up at the corners, and his eyes drift open for another second, "Can try to—replenish on my own." He heaves in another painful breath, and Annie gently puts her cool hand on his forehead, "Maybe… it can be done."
No one says anything for a few beats, until George finds himself speaking without knowing it, "Of course, Mitchell, we'll—we'll get you home, and—and then we'll deal with it. Ah, okay, home. Home, Mitchell, we're going home."
He grins again, for a heartbeat, and then he's gone. Mitchell fades back into the melting darkness where George can't follow, and he's left alone with the others.
Nina makes a small noise in the back of her throat, and George finds himself leaning back into her embrace, "He wants to go home, Nina," He mutters helplessly, "But nothing is going to—how am I supposed to fix it? I can't—I don't know…"
She just rests her chin on the top of his head, and Annie curls up on the bed beside Mitchell, "I'll try and sort something out with the hospital. We can say that it's, I don't know, some kind of hospice facility that he wants, somewhere to—they'll let him go, I think. When people are—in these circumstances— we all just want them to be as comfortable as possible."
"They think he's dying," Annie says simply, one hand brushing the curls away from Mitchell's face, "and they'll let him go. Maybe he is."
George reaches out a hand towards her, but he can't bring himself to stretch it all the over across the still body between them. "Mitchell is going to be fine. H-he said that he has a plan, and we need to focus on that. Let's—let's just get through right now, and then we can start thinking about… later."
"Mitchell. Mitchell—I, we need you to pretend to be dead."
The words taste wrong and bitter in his mouth, but George says them, and then repeats. His friend cracks one eye open, hazy and unfocused, and pants another breath. Annie moves into his line of vision then, and gently says, "Mitchell, if you want to come home, we need—you have to be dead. The hospital won't release you, and we can't just—take you."
Mitchell shifts minutely, and his eyes slip closed, but George forces him to stay awake, "No—no, Mitchell, listen to me. This is important. Mitchell—yes, are you listening? All you need to do is stop breathing. Just stop breathing, and they'll think you're g-gone, and then we can take you home. Mitchell, can you hear me?"
They'd agreed on this plan, no less than an hour ago, and none of them were sure yet that it wasn't madness.
But Mitchell had told George once, lifetimes ago from this moment, that he was just so in the habit of breathing, that it came naturally to him. He didn't need to, though.
"Can you understand us, Mitchell?" Nina asks then, her voice kind but firm.
They still don't get a verbal reply, but Mitchell narrows his eyes briefly, and then just stops breathing without any warning.
George's heart may have skipped a beat, despite knowing what it meant, and a sudden wave of despair floods over him as Mitchell's eyes slip closed, and he looks dead he looks dead he looks dead—
He lets out a wail against his will, and Nina arm on his elbow is the only thing keeping him upright, because suddenly George doesn't think that he can carry through with this plan—it's too real, it's too real. "No—" He manages to say through the tears choking him, and his vision starts to go dark.
Mitchell moves his hand then, despite the lack of movement in his chest, and grips George's hand tightly—before going motionless again.
It's not quite enough to quell the crushing panic inside his chest, but it does help him to remember how to breathe. Nina takes that as a cue to rush out to the nurses, stumbling over her rehearsed words as she tells them that Mitchell is gone.
George sways on his feet, clutching onto his friend's hand with an emotion akin to desperation, and knows that he looks alone to everyone around them, despite being able to feel Annie's presence beside him. She leans down to kiss Mitchell on the cheek, and whisper, "We'll bring you home."
More people come into the room now, their voices low and respectful, but even though he knows that it's not real—George still can't move. He has to be pried away from Mitchell's limp hand by Nina, and even then he can't seem to stop the tears from falling hot and fast.
He bites down on his lip when they start to carefully peel away the monitors and tubes, and all sound seems to drain away from the world when a sheet is draped over his friend's face.
"It's not real, George, it's not real," Annie repeats over and over, but he can only see her lips moving in front of his face, and feel Nina's arms wrapped around him. It feels like he's losing Mitchell over and over again, his skin suddenly hyper-sensitive to the flakes of dried blood still on him. He's shaking, body taken over by tremors, and it's almost as if George can feel the colour draining out of his face. The staff shoot him sad looks, as George feels his heart breaking in two.
Then they wheel the bed with the body out of the room, and George finds himself stumbling down the corridor in another direction.
Nina and Annie try to follow him, but he holds up a shaky hand just before he half falls into the male bathroom. There, he grips the edges of the sink so hard that his fingers turn white, and he lets out angry sobs that swirl around his head and down the drain.
George emerges from the restroom, face scrubbed with water, to find Nina leaning against the wall alone.
"Annie went after him. We have to fill out some forms, and then—we'll get him home." He nods, and they sit down together, neither saying anything about the way George's hand can't stop shaking so his signature turns out like a childish scribble.
Someone presses a plastic bag of Mitchell's items into his hand, saying words that are probably condolences, and he lets Nina lead him outside and into the car. There they just sit, silently, until the sun sets and the majority of cars leave around their space in the car park. All the people heading home for the night seem so innocent, that it makes the ache in his chest get sharper and stronger, until George just leans his head against the steering wheel, not looking up until Nina nudges him gently.
They have to wait until its dark, before they slip around the back of the hospital with the car, and George feels that ice-cold hand wrap around his heart once more as he eases Mitchell into the backseat. His friend had briefly drifted his eyes open to reassure George, but something still felt wrong deep in his chest.
The door was open and waiting for them by the time they reached home, and Nina kept a look out for neighbours while George once again had to bite his teeth against Mitchell's groans and drag him inside. Annie pretended not to be wiping her eyes as George practically fell to the ground with Mitchell in an attempt to get him on the mattress that Annie had dragged downstairs.
He barely stirs as they cover him gently with blankets, but then Mitchell mutters, "Home, George—you got me home."
George drops to his knees in a heartbeat, and feel his bottom lip wobbling, "I did, Mitchell, we made it home. Now it's up to you to hold up y-your end of the bargain, and get better—okay?"
Mitchell grunts a response, and George accepts it, turning on the television on low even as the pain in his chest remains, the sound low enough so that Mitchell can just hear The Real Hustle starting. His friend smiles faintly, and Annie pushes a welcome mug of tea into his hands.
They're finally home—but George still doesn't know how this is going to have a happy ending.
(so I've been away from writing for the past year—and this just feels so good). I hope this was okay; I have plans to continue it when I next get a spare moment. Let me know what you think.
Thanks for reading,